• Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 2020.
  • 6.125 x 9.25 inches
  • cloth, dust jacket
  • 630 pages plus 8 pages of illustrations
  • ISBN: 9781883631192

Price: $60.00  other currencies

Order Nr. 134700

"A masterwork. ...Tanselle has gathered his own fact-rich essays from a lifetime's worth of reflection on the physical nature of books. The result is a true summa of bibliographical insight, information and guidance. There are, for example, chapters about paper, typography and layout, typesetting and presswork, bindings, endpapers and dust jackets. Throughout, Tanselle emphasizes the bibliographer's paramount obligation to study and compare multiple copies of any book before drawing conclusions about its makeup or publication history."
- Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"This is a major bibliographic work both in terms of size and complexity...Each essay is a valuable contribution to the field in its own right; their collation as a book creates a work which is greater than the sum of its parts (the comprehensive index is a particularly valuable addition), yielding a reference that will prove indispensable to students and experienced scholars alike."
- Emma Koch, Script & Print

"This is a monumental volume from a master bibliographer. Its thoughtfulness, historical awareness and scope is a testament to the centrality of Tanselle's work within the discripline of descriptive bibliography over the last half century. As new means of book production will surely arise over the next fifty years, Tanselle's work should be a solid standing point from which to approach their future bibliographical examination."
-James Mitchell, Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society (Number 16, 2021)

"Tanselles Descriptive Bibliography is a monument to scholarship and historicist 'ways of thinking'.... It is a lasting resource for scholars, critics, and students seeking fuller access to the fabric of the cultures of writing, reading, and the making of books."
- John Bryant, Textual Cultures (Volume 14, Number 2, Fall 2021)

This book offers a comprehensive guide to descriptive bibliography--the activity of describing books as physical objects. The function of descriptive bibliography is to provide detailed historical accounts of the varied material forms in which texts have been transmitted and to show the relationships among those examples that claim to carry texts of the same work. Because books constitute one of the largest and most important classes of artifacts, an understanding of how they were made and circulated and what they looked like is a major component in our sense of the human past. Through bibliographical investigation, we are able to observe the materials and analyze the skills employed by printers in their daily activities; we can learn something of the publishing contexts from the many design elements in books; and every physical detail plays a role in our understanding of how the texts of books came to be what they are. Descriptive Bibliography is not just a guide to the identification of first editions (though it serves that purpose) but is rather a history of the production and publication of the books taken up and thus a contribution to the broader annals of printing, publishing, and human culture.

The first part of this book contains five essays on general topics: an introduction to the field and its history; its relation to library cataloguing; the concept of ideal copy; the meanings of edition, impression, issue, and state; and tolerances in reporting details. The second part covers more specific subjects: transcription and collation; format; paper; typography and layout; typesetting and presswork; non-letterpress material; publishers' bindings, endpapers, and jackets; and overall arrangement. At the end is an appendix containing a sample description with detailed commentary (also issued separately as a reference pamphlet), followed by a record of the literature of descriptive bibliography.

G. Thomas Tanselle, former vice president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and adjunct professor of English at Columbia University, has served as president of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, the Bibliographical Society of America, the Grolier Club, and the Society for Textual Scholarship.